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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

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Would it surprise you if I told you I had once done a course on meditation? Covering many of the things you mention above, although not in great depth.

More excellent advice and insight on the topic of meditation. It's both interesting and heartening that I have been following a Buddhist path of practice (the meditation, and the other bits) for many years, yet I find a Christian philosopher talks more sense than a lot of Buddhist "experts".

Please permit me to add a few details, and perhaps some words of advice to other readers. First, BV's account is of a meditation session in which there is quite a lot of thinking and reasoning going on. Less experienced practitioners might be better off doing less of it. Dr. Vallicella thinks and reasons with far more confidence and clarity than the rest of us, and other meditators might be better off just developing their calmness and concentration upon their chosen meditation object.

In the same vein, many beginners do indeed experience a complete lack of thought control. They sit down to meditate, and their mind is all over the place. In one sense, it is right to be alarmed at this. But don't just leave it there! Beginners might want to use this alarm as the basis of insight, or as a spur to developing that control, or both.

Vlastimil and others might want to check out Daniel Ingram before committing too strongly to his recommendations. He might be an excellent teacher, but he is well-known on the internet for his own claims that he has reached extraordinary levels of insight, including enlightenment. This is so rare as to warrant caution.

Finally, a point about the alleged ability of meditation to reveal the impermanence of everything. Of course, this is impossible; an example of the problem of induction. All that it could conclusively reveal is the impermanence of those things hitherto experienced. But the Buddha himself did not claim that all things were impermanent. Along with Dukkha, impermanence (Anicca) applies only to all sankhara, which is usually taken to mean "all conditioned phenomena".

Astute,

I am shocked, SHOCKED! A man of your English sobriety and good sense?

Whyaxye,

Thanks for the comments and kind words.

True, the meditation session I described above involved thinking and reasoning, but the goal is to arrive, not at a conclusion, a proposition, or set of propositions, but at a direct non-dual experience of the thinker behind the thoughts. The goal is one-pointedness, but the route is roundabout.

One might compare this approach to work on a koan, except that the Zennist is not trying to get to the thinker behind the thoughts, convinced as he is that there isn't one. But, to take the hackneyed example, to ask "What is the sound of one hand clapping?," to puzzle over this, is quite different from attempting to sink into nondual awareness by the repetition of a mantram or the focusing on a chosen theme or object. Koan work has a ratiocinative element built into it. In this respect it is like the Hindu style self-inquiry described above.

As for those who claim enlightenment, the commenter offers sound advice; they are almost certainly frauds. The acid test, perhaps, is whether they take money and/or sex for their services. If they do, run away while holding onto your wallet. (I don't know anything about Ingram, so this is not directed against him. I am thinking of Rajneesh and Trungpa.)

>> But the Buddha himself did not claim that all things were impermanent. Along with Dukkha, impermanence (Anicca) applies only to all sankhara, which is usually taken to mean "all conditioned phenomena".<<

Isn't this a point of dispute among Buddhists?

Dear Dr. V,

this comment is not related to this post, rather it is in regards to your potentiality argument (I couldn't figure out how else to contact you, and your older posts are closed to comment).

Do you still find issue with the neo-scholastic substance view of the persons? I think there is one line of thinking you did not address in that post. I don't think the fact that 'normal human fetuses' have the potentiality to become rational beings is irrelevant to the anencephalic fetus. The anencephalic fetus, in virtue of being the kind of thing it is to be of the human species, inherently carries within it certain potencies that it would not carry had it been something else.

For example, a tree is not a defective tree qua rationality, because it is simply not the kind of thing that could ever be rational. Trees do not have the potency to be rational. But the human essence does entail the potency for rational animality, whether a particular human fetus actualizes that potency or not. Presumably, you would object by saying "the anencephalic fetus, physiologically, cannot ever become rational, it is nomologically impossible for it to ever be rational, and therefore lacks the potency for rationality."

However, I think the neo-scholastic view is that regardless, if the physiological defect of the anencephalic fetus could somehow be fixed (let's presume there was some procedure that could do this), then that fetus would , undoubtedly, develop into a fully functional, rational human being- in a way that something like a tree could never develop into a rational animal, no matter how many defects of the tree we correct. In this way, it seems like the potencies of a species is morally relevant to a particular individual that may be physically incapable of actualizing those potencies.

Your case regarding the 4-minute mile I think might be off-base. For a person's potential to run a 4-minute mile is not an essential feature of what it means to be human. Certainly I do not have the potential to deadlift 500 lbs, I probably never will, given my size and build, no matter how much training I do. But I think its irrevelant. I wouldn't argue in the first place that all persons have to potency to deadlift 500 lbs, or run a 4 minute mile, because I don't think that is entailed by the essence of being human.

All the best.

Dear BV,

True, the meditation session I described above involved thinking and reasoning, but the goal is to arrive, not at a conclusion, a proposition, or set of propositions, but at a direct non-dual experience of the thinker behind the thoughts. The goal is one-pointedness, but the route is roundabout.

Point taken, but I was merely reminding other readers that this approach might not work so well for them. Many beginners seem to need a more thorough grounding in basic concentration before they start on the thinking. But if they can follow your approach in this, so much the better.

As for the issue of whether the Buddha restricted the application of anicca to fabricated or conditioned phenomena, I might be influenced by a Theravadan approach here. But the canonical sources which claim that

"All fabrications are inconstant (anicca)...
All fabrications are stressful (dukkha)...
All phenomena are not-self (anatta)"

seem to be as reliable as any (most notably the Dhammapada, which is part of the Khuddaka Nikaya.) To explain it away or ignore it would be to invite questions as to why we might nevertheless want to retain ideas such as the Four Noble Truths, or the reality of kamma, as they come from the same stable. To the best of our knowledge, it's what the man said.

Moreover, if a Buddhist were to imply that all things whatsoever ("sabbe dhamma", as opposed to the more restrictive "sabbe sankhara") were impermanent, then they would also be including nibbana. No point in the aeons of work if the supreme goal doesn't stay put! The point of this little passage in the Dhammapada and elsewhere is that there is one thing beyond impermanence and suffering, but even that is as devoid of self as the phenomena encountered on the way there.

As another famous passage has it of nibbana:

There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned.

Bill,

I've tried to discuss impermanence, suffering and no-self with some Buddhists. No progress so far.

www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5882999

You won't get anywhere with these people. They are too muddle-headed.

I'll send you a couple of published papers of mine.

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